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Mirzhakyp Dulatuly

The third depiction of Attila was found in Vatican

The third depiction of Attila was found in Vatican - e-history.kz
On 15 October at the National Press-Club Professor K. Zhumagulov presented unique depiction of Attila dedicated to the history of the Hun Empire, Rome and Vatikan.

The biggest super-ethnos of the crossroad of Antiquity and the Middle Ages was Turkic group from inner parts of Central Asia. Early history of Kazakhstan is a part of global Turkic history. It is very important to study Turkic history in details, since Turks were those who started the epochal process in Asia and Europe — the Great Migration of Peoples in the second half of the 4th century. It was the turning point of the World history in a whole. Synthesis, integration of public relations, cultures and traditions of tribes and nations inhabited Eurasian space started since that time. These processes had numerous consequences for the formation of radical new civilization and social-cultural relations.

Our President N. A. Nazarbayev standing at the foot of the Ylytau noted: "For each Kazakh Ylytau is a sacred place as it was a center for our ancestors — Huns and Kok-Turks, for Golden Horde" [1].

Great attention of the Head of State to the history and historical science is quite understandable. This covers new model of future of the state and determination of main values and guiding lines. These values should be modern and aimed at national identity strengthening in globalized world. Therefore, President underlines that all-Kazakhstan identity should become the core of national historical consciousness.

According to the State Program, on the recommendation of the Institute of History and Ethnology of the National Academy of Sciences I was sent to Italy. The goal of the foreign business trip is to find the most rare sources and materials on the history of Huns, Avars, Turkic Khaganate, and Golden Horde.

As it is known, it is very difficult to obtain a permission to work at the unique library of Vatican. In addition to professional qualities and appropriate scientific profile it is required to speak Latin or Ancient Greek languages. According to the decision of the library, being an expert on World History, having publications on the history of the Rome Empire, Papacy and relations between the West and the East and speaking Latin and modern languages I received library card.

I conducted great scientific search work at book depositories and funds of the Vatican Apostolic Library (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana), which has the richest and the most ancient collection of manuscripts and bibliographic rarities. Thus, new sources of the history of the Hus Empire, Avar and Turkic Khaganate as well as state and tribal associations on the territory of Kazakhstan during the Middle Ages were found. Most materials are in Latin.

Rare sources are Papal correspondence, chronicles, stories and notes of travelers, missioners and other narrative evidences containing valuable data of the history of Huns, Turkic Khaganates, Deshti-Kipchak, Golden Horde, integration of the East and West along the Greta Silk Road.

I found all these materials in the collection of manuscripts in the Vaticani Latini Hall (Latin Collection). For example, there is information about Huns and their relations with the Rome Empire in the letter of the Pope Leo I the Great (440-461). He called the Eastern Rome Empire (Byzantine) for joint fight against Huns in confrontation for hegemony in Europe. In the letter from April 23, 451 the Pontifex wrote about this: "nam inter principes Christianos spiritu dei confirmante concordiam gemina per totum mundum fiducia roboratur, quia profectus caritatis et fidei utrorumque armorum potentiam insuperabilem Facit, ut propitiato per unam confessionem deo simul et haetretica falsitae et barbara destruatur hostilitas..." [2].

Later in 452 after the conquest of all Northern Italy by Huns they were too close to Rome. It was obvious that the Eastern Rome Empire could not stop the invasion of Huns; Attila was about to obtain the world supremacy. The Empire of Huns, which consisted of four parts, occupied the territory from the Kingdom of Huns to Germany (Skythica et Germanica regna). The army of the Rome Empire was not able to resist the pressure of Huns; it was paralyzed by their successes. In this situation the Rome Empire — superpower of that time, used the tool to delegate embassy to the Hun Ruler Attila. The embassy was leaded by the Pope Leo I: ... "...et tot nobilium provinciarum lattissima eversione credita est saevitia et cupiditas hostilis explenda, nihilque inter omnia consilia principis ac senatus populique Romani salubrius visum est, quam ut per legatos pax truculentissimi regis expeteretur. Suscepit hoc negotim cum viro consulari Avieno et viro praefectorio Trygetio beatissimus papa Leo auxilio dei fretus, quem sciret numquam piorum laboribus defuisse nec aliud secutum est quam praesumpserat fides. nam tota leganione dignanter accepta ita summi sacerdotis praesentia rex gavisus est, ut bello abstinere praeciperet et ultra Danuvium promissa pace discederet" (the destruction of several provinces followed by enemy’s cruelty and greed will the hearts with the hope that the authority, the Senate and Rome people will not find the better decision than to ask threatening king for peace through the embassy. This task was handled to ex-consul Avin and ex-prefect Trigetsiy and blessed Pope Leo, placed great hope in God who, as he knew, would never let down the people. He also understood what his faith foreboded. The embassy was received with respect; the King was particularly pleased by the presence of the highest head of Church and refused to continue the war promising to keep the peace and come back to the other side of the Danube) [3].

Analyzing papal correspondence of that period it is easy to find the letter dated back to 512 or 513 which was addressed to the Pope Symmachus (498-514) by bishops from Eastern regions. From its content we learn that in 452 during the historical meeting Leo I discussed with Attila the questions of release of prisoners who were captivated by Huns.

The fact that the ruler of huge Hun superpower, which tributaries by the middle of the 5th century were both Rome Empires, stopped in front of capitulating Rome city in response to the requests of the embassy headed by the Pope shows the wisdom of Attila. He stopped the violence of his army refusing in essence nonsensical destructions and victims... Thereby the mentioned sources allow recreating the objective image of Attila as an outstanding statesman and ruler who committed great acts. With the full weight of the truth I can affirm that Attila should be considered as the most eminent personality of the Ist millennium. During his rule military art of Huns was most noticeable at the victorious battles with both Rome Empires.

Attila is favorably compared with his contemporaries — warriors who led campaigns against Rome. He respected Christian religion and the Pope. Therefore, it is not an occasion even now in the main Christian temple in the word — St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, everyone can see the depictions of the great ruler of the Hun Empire. This is bas-relief of the 17th century made by sculptor Alessandro Algardi. Historical meeting of Leo I and Attila in 452 was depicted on it. The same plot was embodied by Raphael in the Stanze di Eliodoro (Room of Heliodorus).

Therefore, there are two unique things symbolizing immortality of Attila in the main Christian temple in the word — St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome during several centuries.

In this regard I would like to underline that for the first time I have discovered very significant already the third depiction of Attila in Vatican museums which had not yet be found in any publication dedicated to the history of the Hun Empire and Rome. I mean one of the galleries in Vatican Museums. This gallery is decorated with 40 geographical maps demonstrating former domains of the Catholic Church. Paintings on the ceiling — frescos with historical plots related to the history of papacy and international relations are of a special interest.


Professor Kalkaman Zhumagulov is talking about the fresco found in one of the galleries of Vatican museums. It had not yet be found in any publication dedicated to the history of the Hun Empire and Rome. The fresco is made in the 16th century. The inscription below: "S. Leo Pont. Max. Attila. Furentem. Reprimit", which means: "Pope Leo the Great stopped terrible Attila".

Close to the center of the gallery among numerous drawings I found a picture depicting mentioned above meeting of the ruler of Huns Attila and the Pope Leo I in 452.

It is very difficult to see this fresco among many other colorful pictures on the ceiling. However, I was happy to discover it while studied in details historical pictures of that gallery.

Compared with generally known and used in several publications fresco of Raphael in the Stanze di Eliodoro — "Leo the Great meeting Attila", — this ceiling fresco of the Gallery of Geographical Maps Attila is depicted riding the horseback with golden king crown on his head. His look demonstrates a type of winner who conquered Northern Italy. In this picture we can observe respectful attitude of the Holy See towards Attila which is still kept.

I presented this depiction of Attila, for the first time found by me, at the conference in the National Press-Club in Almaty on October 15, 2014.

As a historian- medievalist I can’t avoid the fact the this historical meeting of Attila and Leo I at Ambuley field in 452 marked the growth of the authority of the Church and papacy. The Pope Leo I was called Leo the Great (Leo Magnus) because he was able to persuade Attila no to move on Rome and stop him at that terrible for the Empire situation.

For the history of papacy and a whole medieval Europe this meeting was objectively significant in regard of the growth of political influence of Popes and the clergy during the Middle Ages and following history. Gradually the papacy turned in active force able to control secular events within and out of European borders.

After the Hun Empire the Avar Khaganate entered the Western arena in the 5th — 8th centuries. Avars are Central Asian tribes of Turkic origin. In Latin sources they are called Avari, Avares.

Materials of written sources and archaeology confirm historical succession of the Avar Khaganate and the Hun superpower, its multi-tribality, development of international ties from the East (Altai, regions of the Central Asian, Iran) to the West (the Byzantium Empire, unions of German tribal associations and kingdoms).

Reading Latin manuscripts I am becoming convinced that after Huns Avars in the 6th century continued the course of the Great Migration of Peoples in the West. Studying the history of interrelations of the East and the West in funds and book depositories of Vatican and the libraries of the "La Sapienza" University we can trace the following regularity directly related to the history of Turkic world and Kazakhstan. Thus, after Avars in the 9th century the migrations of Magyars, later Badjanaks and Khazars, in the 11th century — Kipchaks and Kumans (Komans) began.

At this point I would like to give brief information about Kipchaks. They formed one of the parts of the basis of the ancient ethnos of Central Asian Kazakhs; Kipchaks had their own statehood and borders which called Deshti-Kipchak. That was a huge region: the Syrdarya River — in the West, the Irtysh River — in the East, Semirechye (Seven Rivers) — in the South, the Yedil (Volga) River — in the North.

In Vatican library I paid much attention to the information of European travelers who visited the East — Central Asia and lands to the East from it, i. e. Mongolia and China. This is a particular type of sources which give more information on the history of international relations as well as the economy, way of life, social and political relations, religion and temper.

In total I defined 126 names (discovered by me) of those who travelled to Eastern and Central Asia since the middle of the 13th century and till the middle of the 15th century. Most of them are even unknown. The exception is, probably, a narrow range of separate experts of Western Europe.

For instance, there are the following names: Balduin von Hennegau, Odorico da Pordenone, Isachus Venerio (Venier), Jacobus von Florenz, Paschalis Hispanus de Victoria, Gottifredo Morosini, Giovanni Querini and many other travelers and missionaries.

Italian travelers, for example, mentioned those roads on which it was possible to cross the lands of Central Asia and Khaganate of Kipchaks (Khanat Кiptschak). In this case, the term "Khaganate" coincides with the word "State". Turkic term "Khaganate", according to its content, is equal to the term "state". In material of Vatican library there are much data on the Golden Horde, the State of Chagatai’s descendants, about the rule of different Khans, and so on.

As it was already mentioned, the Khanate of Kipchaks was described in sources as separate political and state formations. For instance, during the rule of Khubilay Khan it was anachronism to assert that the Khaganate of Chagatai’s descendants, Khaganate of Kipchaks or Persia were hi dependants.

Correspondence between the Popes and Khans of the Golden Horde is valuable for the history of Kazakhstan, Turkic world and Central Asia. I manage to look through some manuscripts. However, this work will be continued in future. In addition, most fund and archives, as the governing body of the Vatican Apostolic Library informed, are available till June 30 of each year.

Series of sources and modern literature in European languages on mentioned above plots were found by me in the largest in the world University La Sapienza (Sapienza Universita di Roma), where more than 150 thousand students study.

These unique materials are of a special importance for ideological and patriotic education of Kazakhstan’s society. Undoubtedly, they will enrich source and literature base of synthesis works on the history of Kazakhstan and Turkic world as well as World history. New sources and literature will play crucial role in scientific and educational activity, especially for training historians of new generation in the Republic of Kazakhstan.


1. Thoughts at the foot of the Ylytau. Kazakhstanskaya Pravda Newspaper, 26 August 2014. — p. 1.
2. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV), Vaticani Latini (Vat. lat. 541, f. 67-68 R). BAV, Vat. lat. 1319, f. 96ᵛ , Vat. lat. 544, f. 183-184R
3. Prosper Тiro. Epitoma de Chronicon, 1367, p. 482.

Zhumagulov K. T.,

Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor, Emeritus Professor of University of Göttingen, Head of the Department of World History, Historiography and Sources Studies, al-Farabi Kazakh National University